Kuniyoshi, The 108 Heroes of the Suikoden

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861) The 108 Heroes of the Suikoden, 1830/1845. Oban.

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This fine print is from an eight part series depicting all one hundred and eight heroes of the great romance, The 108 Heroes of the Suikoden  … stories derived from the semi-historical Chinese novel, Suikoden (Shuihu zhuan in Chinese).  The narrative tells of the adventures of a band of 108 rebels who sought refuge in the margins of Liangshan Marsh.  These rebel warriors sought to protect the poor and downtrodden, very much like Robin Hood’s band of outcasts in medieval England. They were eventually to win both favour and pardon for heroically defending the country from invasion. As with so much ukiyo-e, the story itself is apocryphal and the characters are invented wholly or else dramatically embroidered. It is the original series of single prints from 1827 and its astonishing and inventive power that made Kuniyoshi’s name as an artist of outstanding quality.

This series, a kind of supplement to the original single sheets and also filling in the gaps of the unillustrated figures from the first set was published in 1835, a few years after the first explosive set. It’s a tremendous achievement; the individual characters of the warriors are realised and there is a strangely contemporary feel to the whole design, reminiscent of Manga and other idioms. The actual characters in this sheet are, clockwise from the top:

Seisuisho Tanteikei in a spotted coat with frilled collar; Shinkwasho Giteikoku adjusting his sleeve; Hyakushosho Kanto seated in full armor; Tekkyoshi Rakkwa standing in full armor; Kimpyoshi Yorin seated, shouting; Kimmoken Dankeiju holding a coiled cord; Kwaganshunkei Tohi seated with his hand to the back of his head; Temmokusho Hoki seated, resting his chin on his fan; and Maunkinshi Obo in a black helmet with half-mask.

The first edition was printed in 1830 by Kaga-ya Kichiyemon, the edition was reprinted and published again in 1845 by Iba-ya Sensaburo. In the case of this sheet, the edition is difficult to determine since it lacks the seal of Iba-ya Sensaburo.

This is an important and very fine series by Kuniyoshi. The drawing is concentrated and deliberately executed and the design is very accomplished. The whole series acts as a vital adjunct to the single sheets. The print is a fine impression, excellent colour and very good condition with the typical centre fold of the series.

Published by Kaga-ya Kichiyemon in 1830 and republished by Iba-ya Sensaburo in 1845.

25 x 37.5 cm.